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A chilling case of changing identity

My school run has a two-phase soundtrack – Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix on the way to school and BBC Radio 4’s Today programme on the way back. Depending on the traffic I only get about 10 minutes of Today before I park the car and jump on the tube to get to the office.

But this week I heard a voice from the past. A guest on the show was explaining a new initiative in a voice I recognised as that of a work colleague from about 15 years ago – a person I thought had disappeared off the face of the earth. The voice was unmistakable but the name given did not match that of my old work pal. No wonder my former colleague had been so difficult to keep track of.

Normally, it is fairly easy to follow the career path of people in the media because of the rampant gossip culture and the many pages devoted to journalistic tittle-tattle in the press. And of course there’s the ‘dead man’s shoes’ scenario. As soon as anyone has resigned there’s a queue of candidates lining up to take their job – often best friends first.

It was surprising that my friend had vanished from this fertile grapevine. And even more surprising to hear that unmistakable voice again after such a long time in the wilderness. But the real reason this person had slipped off my radar was because of a clever name change. And I remember why it came about.

My friend got into financial difficulties and could not pay the mortgage. Having worked ever since leaving school, this professional person was struggling to cover their bills as interest rates rose. In the end, keys went back to the mortgage company and the chic little flat in north London was repossessed.

At a time when it was unusual for journalists to worry about the cost of anything – expenses would pay – my friend couldn’t get a credit card. And the fear that someone would discover how low my chum’s financial status had plummeted was a constant trauma.

It was great to hear an old friend resurface, albeit with a different identity. But it served as a reminder of how fragile our financial health is, especially when we overstretch ourselves with property. This makes the US sub-prime fiasco look all the more chilling. The sub-prime market here is growing but how long before that bubble bursts and clients are forced to find themselves new identities to escape the stigma of financial failure?

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